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Join the Conversation – May 2, 2017

I would like to extend a special thank you to Ms. Rita Black of Eakin Elementary for allowing me join in her 4th Grade music class yesterday morning. I look forward to an incredible performance by her talented students on May 22nd. I believe that music and arts education is so very important so I love seeing our children have the opportunity to grow and learn from such talented teachers.
Thank you also to the TN Association of Marriage & Family Therapists for allowing me to address their annual convention and honoring me with an Appreciation Award for our joint efforts to advance and protect the integrity of their profession and practice and to combat recent discriminatory legislation, including last year’s counseling bill.

The end is near.
The first half of the 110th General Assembly is nearing its end. We are expecting to work through this week, and if all goes according to plan, the budget could be before the House by Friday. We could possibly adjourn sine die by a week from today.
Let your voices be heard and make your presence felt.
With the end near, there is only one Monday left for you to join us at the Capitol. Everyone who has taken time out of your busy schedules this year has made such a difference. We can’t thank you all enough. I look forward to seeing you at the Capitol next week.

Big wins
Mental Health Parity
As most of you know, access to quality and affordable health care, specifically mental health care and addiction treatment services, is a passion of mine. For too long, our country’s health care system and insurers have treated mental health care and addiction services as a secondary class of health issues. The tide is fortunately beginning to turn on this issue thanks to leaders like the late Sen. Paul Wellstone and in the face of increasing PTSD and suicide rates among our veterans, the devastating opioid epidemic, and the personal experiences of those throughout our community. However, our state lags behind others in ensuring that Tennessee families are protected and fully benefitting from federal laws. To this end, this session I teamed up with TAADAS, NAMI, TAMHO and other advocates to introduce a slate of bills aimed at ensuring our state’s compliance with the Wellstone/Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act and other related federal laws. With the help of devoted advocates like Sita Diehl, Mary Linden Salter, Bill Dobbins, and our Senate sponsor, Sen. Richard Briggs, MD, we passed HB480. This legislation requiring managed care organizations (MCO’s) participating in the TennCare program to report and effectively demonstrate their compliance with parity law was signed into law by Governor Haslam on April 28, 2017.
If you have the opportunity, please join me in thanking our bill cosponsors, Chairman Gerald McCormick, Rep. Joe Pitts, Rep. Darren Jernigan, Rep. Brenda Gilmore, Rep. John Mark Windle, and Rep. G.A. Hardaway.

By working across the aisle and maintaining our consistent commitment to solving the real problems facing our state, House Democrats remained united and led the way to passage of the IMPROVE Act. Heading into the debate on the bill, our goals were to restore and strengthen the state’s transportation fund, protect the fiscal integrity of the general fund, and keep our expanded local option provisions intact. Thanks to those who voted in favor of this legislation, we are finally on the path to addressing the transportation infrastructure needs of local communities across the state.
The immediate focus now shifts to the local level where Metro and other surrounding counties have the opportunity to generate new, dedicated transportation revenues and start building out the type of forward-thinking transit system we so badly need. Meanwhile, at the state level, I will continue to research new, creative ways to generate more funds, with the goal of attracting additional matching federal dollars, to invest in regional mass transit projects. As most of you know, the dollars generated by the IMPROVE Act will help address our backlogged projects, notably I-440, Charlotte Pike and others, but they are wholly insufficient to match our current rate of growth and the needs of our local economy. In short, our work is not done. The reality is that the types of transportation projects our bustling region needs require a long-term investment by every level of government, a continued focus on comprehensive solutions, and most importantly, an unwavering commitment by leaders at every level of government. I remain committed, and I will continue to work with others who share our focus.

Pending Legislation
Senator Dickerson and I introduced HB1402, a bill I refer to as the “Sacred Site Protection Act” in response to the intentional desecration of Jewish cemeteries and others in recent months. Our legislation would enhance the criminal penalties for intentionally desecrating a place of worship or burial from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class E felony. The bill recently passed the Senate 31-0 and is currently “behind the budget” in the House due to a relatively small fiscal note. Thanks to bipartisan support for our bill, I remain confident that we will be able to move the legislation through the House after we pass the budget.

Protecting Our State Parks
Please share your opinions about privatizing our state parks with Governor Haslam at (615) 741-2001 and Commissioner Martineau and Deputy Commissioner Brock Hill at (888) 891-8332.
The Governor’s contract to outsource thousands of jobs at our state colleges and universities is nearing finalization. The contract has been signed and is now being reviewed by the TN Comptroller Justin Wilson for his final sign-off. Please call and share your opinions about outsourcing jobs at our state colleges and universities with Governor Haslam and Terry Cowles at (615) 741-2001 and Commissioner Bob Oglesby at (615) 741-9263. Also, please call your local state college or university and encourage the president to opt-out, if possible.

4/11/17 – West Nashville Washout? – 372WN

4/11/17 – Top Haslam initiatives clear Legislature – Nashville Post

4/13/17 – Could Dems stall out gas tax? – Nashville Post

4/19/17 – Vote still needed before Gov. Haslam signs gas tax hike – WZTV

4/20/17 – Tearful end for non-citizen tuition relief bill – The Ledger

4/25/17 – Cowles: ‘All the retirement system is holding JLL stock’ – Nashville Post

5/1/2017 – Haslam: Outsourcing is ‘pretty good’ for employees – Nashville Post

2017, Vol. VII



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